PARENTS carry much of the responsibility for overweight children, President Mary McAleese told a European conference on childhood obesity in Dublin yesterday.
President McAleese, who opened the three day conference in Trinity College, urged people to change their eating habits and lifestyles pointing out that obese children’s scope for the fullest enjoyment of life was clearly reduced in many ways and must be addressed.
She said obese children suffered from low self-esteem, were vulnerable to bullying and being excluded from everyday childhood experiences, especially sport and adventure play.
She pointed out that one of the central recommendations for preventing and treating childhood obesity is the emphasis on eating together as a family.
“Modern lifestyles may have let shared family meals slip down out list of priorities but now we can see the price being paid by some of our children,” she said.
President McAleese said it was time to rethink and reorganise our family lives around a much greater focus on healthy living and healthy eating.
“The role of families is crucial too, for as James Baldwin once said: ‘Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them,” she pointed out.
And, she said, a healthy population was a pre-requisite for economic and social development.
“This is a problem that between us we can address if we listen, learn and act,” she said.
The President also expressed concern that despite the World Health Organisation describing the rise in obesity as a global epidemic, it did not raise the same level of alarm as swine flu.
“We each have a personal responsibility for our own health and the health of our children and we carry a responsibility to ensure that the increase in longevity witness in the past few decades is matched with an improvement in overall health,” she said.
“The problem calls for everyone to play their part for such a complex issue cannot be tackled by health professionals alone,” she stressed.
Conference organiser, Professor of Paediatrics, Hillary Hoey, said the rate at which Irish children were becoming obese demanded an urgent response to address the devastating health problems.
“Obesity is preventable and the focus should be on prevention and early intervention. Intervention in childhood and adolescent obesity has been shown to be more successful than in adults,” she said.
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